2014 Backgrounder: Alberta Pilot for Occupation-Specific Work Permits

2014 Backgrounder: Alberta Pilot for Occupation-Specific Work Permits

News Release: Sep 4 TFW Pilot Project Oversight ‘fell between the cracks’

Add your reaction Share

2014 AFL Labour Day Message: Working Albertans need unions (perhaps now more than ever)

Labour Day is a holiday to celebrate the accomplishments of working people and unions.

The first part of that equation is a relatively easy sell.

Even here in politically conservative Alberta, almost everyone would agree with the sentiment expressed in the old union song, “Solidarity Forever,” which points out that without the “brains and muscle” of ordinary working people “not a single wheel would turn.”

So, it’s not difficult to convince people they should applaud the hard work of nurses, teachers, electricians, heavy-duty mechanics, rig hands and the multitude of other people who make up Alberta’s labour force and who, collectively, keep our economy running.

But unions? That’s a different story.

Read More here:

2014 AFL Labour Day Message: Working Albertans need unions (perhaps now more than ever)


Add your reaction Share

Labour Day Message: Working Albertans need unions (perhaps now more than ever)

Labour Day is a holiday to celebrate the accomplishments of working people and unions.

The first part of that equation is a relatively easy sell.

Even here in politically conservative Alberta, almost everyone would agree with the sentiment expressed in the old union song, “Solidarity Forever,” which points out that without the “brains and muscle” of ordinary working people “not a single wheel would turn.”

So, it’s not difficult to convince people they should applaud the hard work of nurses, teachers, electricians, heavy-duty mechanics, rig hands and the multitude of other people who make up Alberta’s labour force and who, collectively, keep our economy running.

But unions? That’s a different story.

For decades now, politicians, business people and conservative media pundits have been feeding Albertans a constant stream of negative messages about unions.

If you listen to some of these often self-interested critics, unions are a blight on the landscape akin to the hordes of locusts described in the Bible.

But are the naysayers right?

In order to appreciate the true value of unions, I’d like to engage in a thought experiment. Put simply, imagine there were no unions in Alberta.

Right now, Alberta’s 420,000 unionized workers make an average of 18 percent more per hour than their non-unionized counterparts. Economists agree that union contracts have the effect of pulling wages up for all workers in a given sector, not just those who belong to unions. So, if there were no unions, what do you think would happen to family incomes in the province?

If that doesn’t convince you, consider things like pensions, drug and dental benefits and workplace safety. If there were no unions to establish benchmarks for benefits and pensions or to fight for safer work places, do you think employers would improve upon the status quo, or would they backslide?

In addition, unions have traditionally played important political and social roles in Canadian society. As economist Paul Krugman has written, unions have become one of “the only effective counterbalances to the power of corporations” and the elite policies pushed by conservative politicians.

If there had been no unions engaging in advocacy work over generations, do you think governments would ever have agreed to introduce things like Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) or occupational health and safety legislation?

If there had been no unions to say “no way!” to Ralph Klein’s so-called “Third Way” in health care, do you think that Medicare would have survived intact?

More recently, if there were no unions to lead protests against the irresponsible use of the Temporary Foreign Worker program, do you think the Harper government would have ever considered the rollbacks to the program it announced this summer?

The final question I’d like to poise to you as part of my thought experiment looks to the future, not the past and has to do with an issue that is raising concerns around the world: income inequality.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently released a report saying growing income inequality is threatening global economic security. Countries with high levels of income inequality are more prone to recessions because their citizens have weak or declining purchasing power. At the same time, they face higher crime rates, lower educational scores, and shorter life expectancies.

Growing inequality is also problematic because increasing concentration of economic power invariably leads to increasing political power for the rich – which, in turn, subverts real democracy.

What does any of this have to do with Alberta or with unions? Well, it probably comes as no surprise to anyone that Alberta is, by far, Canada’s most unequal province.

According to the U of A’s Parkland Institute, almost all of Alberta’s robust economic growth over the past 30 years has been gobbled up by a small sliver of people at the top of our province’s economic ladder.

For example, after adjusting for inflation, the average incomes of the bottom 99 percent of Albertans increased by a modest 13 percent between 1982 and 2011. During the same period, incomes for the top 1 percent increased by 99 percent and incomes for the top 0.1 percent increased by 149 percent.

One of the most striking features of Alberta’s economic story is that the rise of incomes for the top 1 percent has been almost exactly inversely proportional to the decline in union coverage in the province, brought about by anti-union labour laws.

To put it another way, the harder it became for unions to organize, the easier it became for those at the top of the pyramid to grab the fruits of economic growth for themselves, rather than sharing them with everyone else.

That’s why Labour Day should be a day to contemplate the role of unions, not just the role of workers.

For more than 100 years, unions have helped improve wages, benefits and working Canadians for all working Canadians, not just their members.

They’ve also played an important role in standing up to powerful corporations whose interests don’t always align with the public’s and championing policies, like Medicare, that benefit middle-income families.

Rising income inequality is the latest challenge faced by working Albertans. It’s a challenge that threatens the very foundations of our middle class society – even our democracy. And it’s a challenge that unions – and perhaps only unions – can overcome.

In that way, this Labour Day, let’s celebrate unions: because they’re still needed in Alberta today. Perhaps more than ever.

Gil McGowan is president of the Alberta Federation of Labour

Add your reaction Share

Lives Are At Stake If Government Doesn’t Fix Foreign Worker Fiasco

AFL calls on federal AG to investigate safety concerns surrounding fast-track program for TFWs in oil sands construction

EDMONTON – Worker safety is being put at risk by lack of oversight for a program that fast-tracked guest workers in Alberta’s oil patch.

As reported today by CBC news, workers at the Husky Sunrise project in the Alberta oil sands have come forward with accounts of significant safety violations and near misses caused by inexperienced and unqualified workers hired through the Alberta Pilot for Occupation-Specific Work Permits, a special fast-track stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker program.

“When it comes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, we've raised concerns about wage suppression, exploitation of foreign workers and the displacement of Canadians. But now it's becoming clear that the program also has serious implications for workplace safety," Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said.

"What we’re seeing is that employers have been using the Alberta Occupation-Specific pilot program to hire unskilled workers to do skilled work in oil sands construction. Without the proper skills and training, these workers are putting themselves and others at risk of serious injury or even death."

Originally launched in June 2011, the Pilot allowed employers to hire unqualified workers from abroad for specific occupations without first demonstrating that efforts had been made to offer the jobs to qualified Canadians. Information on the Pilot is difficult to obtain, but based on what’s available, the Alberta Federation of Labour estimates that only 24 per cent of guest workers hired under the Occupation-Specific fast track are fully qualified as tradespeople.

“We fear that some of the guest workers given a work permit through the Pilot are unqualified as tradespeople and unfit to work on Alberta industrial construction sites because of their inability to effectively communicate with coworkers,” McGowan said in a letter asking the federal Auditor General to conduct a non-partisan review of the program. “Everybody wants to ensure that Canadian workplaces are safe workplaces. An audit of this program would help ensure that standards are maintained, and could prevent injuries and deaths.”

When it began, the Pilot was originally just for the steamfitter/pipefitter trade, but was expanded in September 2012 to include six additional occupations. On July 31 of this year, the Pilot was ended as part of the government’s changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program, but work permits already granted under the program are still in place and an estimated 2,000 workers brought in through the pilot are still at Alberta worksites.

“When it comes to safety issues, the government shouldn’t just be waiting around for these work permits to expire,” McGowan said. “If there are workers on these sites who are not trained, and who pose a risk to their co-workers, the government needs to act.”

Unlike other Temporary Foreign Worker programs, the Alberta Pilot for Occupation-Specific Work Permits did not require employers to fill out Labour Market Impact Assessments – the documents that are supposed to ensure that there was an attempt to hire Canadians to do the work. Because of this lack of paperwork, it has been difficult until now for the public to obtain information about how the program is being misused.

-30-

MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

Add your reaction Share

Tenth annual Farm Workers Day marks track record of government indifference

Despite promises of reform, province’s agricultural workers are excluded from employment standards

Calgary - As agricultural workers mark the province’s tenth annual Farm Workers Day, Alberta remains the only place in Canada that excludes them from employment standards, health and safety and ‎the right to unionize.

On Wednesday, August 20, at an event at the Bridgeland Riverside Community Centre (917 Centre Ave. NE, Calgary AB) the Alberta Federation of Labour joined representatives of other concerned organizations in calling for the immediate inclusion of agricultural workers in Alberta’s workplace standards.

“The people who work in Alberta’s vibrant agricultural sector deserve the same protections as any other Albertans,” AFL secretary treasurer Siobhan Vipond said. “It’s an antiquated exception from the rules that doesn’t make sense in the 21st century. This doesn’t happen anywhere else in Canada – or in most G7 nations. We’re completely alone in this unfair, unjust and callous disregard of the wellbeing of agricultural workers.”

More than 50,000 Albertans work in the agricultural sector. They account for 2.6 per cent of our workforce — and yet have few legal protections in their workplace. One in five agricultural workers in Alberta work at worksites with more than 20 employees.

“When these workers were excluded in the law, it was 1943, and farming was mostly done on family farms,” Vipond said. “But it’s been 70 years, and farming has changed. It is now dominated by huge corporations operating massive hog barns, corporate farms and mushroom factories, employing hundreds of workers. It’s time the law reflected reality, and protected these workers.”

Agricultural workers are exempt for most of the basic employment protections all other Albertans take for granted which makes them very vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. These workers have:

  • No basic employment protections, such as minimum wage, limits on hours of work, rest breaks, overtime or statutory holiday pay;
  • No health and safety protection ;
  • No WCB when they get injured; and
  • No right to unionize.

“Too many injuries and tragedies happen on Alberta’s farms. Too many of those could be prevented. There have been promises from the government, but no action on this issue,” Vipond said. “The exclusion of agricultural workers from the most basic workplace protections is a travesty, and one that Premier Hancock could rectify with the stroke of a pen.”

The annual Alberta Farm Workers Day commemorates the death of agricultural worker Terry Rash, who lost his life at the hands of his employer on August 20, 1999. Each year since 2005, Albertans commemorate Rash’s death, as well as the many other agricultural workers who have lost their lives as a result of work-related illness or injury.

-30-

MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

Add your reaction Share

2014 Ltr to Kenney_AFL proposal_TFW phase down_2014Aug14

Add your reaction Share

AB companies given green light to underpay thousands of TFWs 2014

Evidence shows Harper government continues to allow TFW program to undermine Canadian wages

Edmonton – The wages of Canadians are continuing to be undermined by the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

Internal government documents obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour show that Alberta companies were given the green light to underpay thousands of Temporary Foreign Workers in 2013.

The documents are the latest evidence that the misuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is deliberate, pervasive and not limited to a few sectors of the Canadian economy.

“These documents are a snapshot of what was happening while Jason Kenney, the minister responsible for the program, was telling the public he had taken steps to better monitor and enforce the rules around the program,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “Behind closed doors, they knew the rules were being bent and broken, and they knew thousands of TFWs were being underpaid and used as pawns to drive down wages for all Albertans.”

In 2013, 3,718 individual positions were approved across Canada in the low-skill categories, under 535 Labour Market Opinions (LMO).

Of those permits, the vast majority 2,122 of them were issued to employers in Alberta under 294 Labour Market Opinions.

TFWs were brought in to be paid less than Canadians as truck drivers, shipping and receiving, service station attendants, as health care workers, nurse aides, front desk clerks, metal fabrication labourers, delivery drivers, woodworking machine operators, heavy equipment operators, machining tool operators, automotive mechanics, mine labourers, and concrete, clay, and stone forming operators.

“As you look at these documents, it’s pretty clear that the problems in the Temporary Foreign Worker program extend far beyond the food services industry,” McGowan said. “These documents show the TFW program is being used to keep wages low, and to pay people less than what is paid to Canadians.”

TFWP regulations give Minister Kenney’s department the power to deny work permits if wages offered a worker in the Program are below prevailing regional wages for that particular occupation.

“PC leadership candidates, Conservative Members of Parliament, even Justin Trudeau are whining about the changes to the TFW Program,” McGowan said. “Whenever you hear a politician fighting to expand the TFW program, you know that they’re working for low-wage lobbyists and insiders, not for the good of Albertans.”

The documents, which contain records from all Canadian provinces and territories, can be accessed here:

LMOs issued for less than prevailing wage rates

Overview of locations and jobs where TFWs were paid less than Canadians

-30-

MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

Add your reaction Share

2014 Overview of locations and jobs where TFWs were paid less than Canadians

Overview of locations and jobs where TFWs were paid less than Canadians

Supporting document to News Release Aug 15: Alberta companies given green light to underpay thousands of TFWs

Add your reaction Share

2014 LMOs issued for less than prevailing wage rates

Internal FOIP Documents:

2014 LMOs issued for less than prevailing wage rates

Supporting document to News Release Aug 15: Alberta companies given green light to underpay thousands of TFWs


Add your reaction Share

2014 Ltr to Horner_re teachers pre-1992 pension

Add your reaction Share